I’m stealing from Queenie…shut up, it’s my birthday week.
Last week, as we talked about things like vacations, concerts, and weddings, Queenie pushed back on how much she dislikes all forms of what she called “organized happiness,” further cementing the notion that she is the young female version of me. (Brilliant, self-aware, logical, and, most notably, humble).
The hard truth is that whenever it is that you die, the following events will not be on your list of the ten greatest moments of your life:
- Your wedding
- Your proms
- Your high school or college graduation
Most adults who have experienced any of those things, along with life, will tell you that those are the most overrated, overblown, and ultimately, unimportant moments in life. The marriage matters…the achievement of graduating and what you do with the experience matters; but the moments and events? Totally forgettable.
In fact, if we may parse words, you’ll also completely forget things you’re told you will remember for the rest of your life, that seem, on their face, to be monumental:
- Buying your first house
- Your first paycheck
- The birth of your first child
People lie about the last one because it’s sacrosanct to suggest or acknowledge anything remotely perceivable as negative when it comes to having and raising children. But, back in 2012, a nurse who had treated hundreds of dying patients over decades published a report on the thoughts of the dying. It was, typically, twisted by the media and only presented as a list of things people regret most, topped by not having the courage to live a life true to themselves, as opposed to the life others expected. While that’s a noteworthy thing for people to absorb and consider, those of us who took the time to read the entire report also got to read how completely unimpressed those at the end of their lives were with the process of parenting. While almost none regretted it, and few said they wouldn’t have their kids if they had life to do over again, almost all lamented how much raising their kids took from them, and many questioned if it was worth it.
Before you parent-Nazi’s blow a gasket, let me be clear; as these humans died, they were most thankful for their families above all else, and most notably their children. But with the inevitability of death before them, all concerns over speaking the truth were removed, and they were free to say the things they had always thought, which would have been met with disdain and judgment had they been said out loud prior. In other words, they confirmed the now-famous 2010 New York Magazine article entitled “I love my children, but I hate my life.” https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/i-love-my-children-i-hate-my-life
When they spoke of their favorite and most memorable things about not just parenting, but life in general, holding their child for the first time was mentioned a grand total of zero times. Rather, it was the moments; most notably those of pride, joy, accomplishment, and achievement that they had bore witness to of their children throughout life that stayed with them as the most magical, a lesson that should resonate with all of us.
The things we build up to be momentous and monumental never are. Almost all forms of planned, forced, and expected joy fail to live up to the hype. A massive study done a decade ago confirmed what any self-actualized person already knew; the anticipation and planning of a vacation brings far more joy than the actual event. This applies to almost all forms of manufactured occasions. Weddings never matter in the end, the marriage does. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9
No semi-successful adult even remembers their high school graduation, but almost all of us have vivid memories of a massive party we were at, or an amazing football game, or even an uproariously funny minute in the classroom. People always say stupid things like “you’ll always remember your first paycheck.” HUH? I don’t even know what I would classify as my first one…was it when I was a paperboy (back when they were allowed…and back when people under 80 read newspapers) at the age of 14? Was it when I worked in the mall at 16? I certainly have no idea how much it was for, but I remember both of those jobs distinctly. On Sundays when it was raining my dad would get up with me and help me fold the enormous ad-filled newspapers and then drive me around in his truck as I leaped out at every home making sure the paper made its’ way safely to the dry front porch of the customer’s house. I remember so many of those mornings…but I have no idea how much money I was making. I have striking memories from every home I’ve ever owned, but I don’t have any recollection of being handed the keys to any of them, as people swear you always will. Stop it. Just stop it.
Life is not about events, it’s about moments. It’s what psycho-babble professionals call “being present.” Cliché people would call it “living in the moment,” and they’re both completely accurate. If you spend your time worrying about the past or looking forward weeks from now to your next big planned and forced super-happy-fun time, you’ll miss right now. I’ve had two amazing moments just this week, that I know I’ll never forget. I spent over an hour Thursday night staying up way too late with my wife as we sat on the patio watching an amazing thunder and lightning storm, and just…being. On Saturday night, I woke up wide awake and headed to that same patio, this time with our Labrador Scout and an amazing cigar, and I just sat there for an hour, silently reveling in the amazing life I have. As the expression goes, I was, just a man and his dog. The other one, the one that used to be mine, was being the traitor that he is and lying on the bedroom floor by my wife. Whatever, Maestro, I only raised you…ass. But I’m not bitter.
The point is this…the greatest, most memorable moments of your life will be exactly that…moments. When you make your list, if you’re an honest person, almost none of the greatest times of your life will have been pre-planned…they’ll be those opportunities that you seized, or that fell into your lap. I’m not looking forward to being with friends this weekend who are traveling from around the country for my birthday…I’m not looking forward to the Aftershock concert next month, Thanksgiving in Lake Tahoe with our family of friends, or even tomorrow. When you set yourself up for amazing times, you’ll never experience them…when you just live, you’ll fall face-first into them.